The English word prophet in the Old Testament comes from the Hebrew word “nabiy” which means “spokesman” or “speaker”. The Greek word for prophet is “prophētēs”, which can mean “one who speaks forth” or “advocate.” Prophets are also called “seers,” because of their spiritual insight or their ability to “see” the future, as directed by God.
This is the seventh post in the series.
Elijah is one of the best known prophets to the Jews. As reported, in the Old Testament history book of 2 Kings, Elijah was taken up to heaven. Because there was no evidence that Elijah died the Jews expected him to return.
2 Kings 2:11-12 (NLT)11 As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven.12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.
Because there was no evidence that Elijah died the Jews expected him to return.
Malachi 4:5-6 (NLT)5 “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives.6 His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.” as Elijah was taken up to heaven and apparently, never tasted death.
Jesus said that John the Baptist was not Elijah but that he was a representation of him.
Malachi 3:1 (NLT)1 “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
Matthew 11:9-10 (NLT)9 Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet10 John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way before you.’
Matthew 17:10-13 (NLT)10 Then his disciples asked him, “Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?”11 Jesus replied, “Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready for the Messiah.12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, but he wasn’t recognized, and they chose to abuse him. And in the same way they will also make the Son of Man suffer.”13 Then the disciples realized he was talking about John the Baptist.
Who Was Elijah?
The prophet Elijah is one of the most interesting and colorful people in the Bible, and God used him during an important time in Israel’s history to oppose a wicked king and bring revival to the land. Elijah’s ministry marked the beginning of the end of Baal worship in Israel.
Elijah’s life was filled with turmoil. At times he was bold and decisive, and at other times fearful and tentative. He alternately demonstrates victory and defeat, followed by recovery. Elijah knew both the power of God and the depths of depression.
Elijah, whose name means “my God is the Lord,” came from Tishbe in Gilead, but nothing is known of his family or birth. He appears, seemingly out of nowhere to confront king Ahab of Israel. He told Ahab that because of his evil the entire nation would suffer a severe drought.
1 Kings 17:1 (NLT)1 Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”
In the early days of the drought God has ravens provide food for Elijah.
1 Kings 17:2-6 (NLT)2 Then the LORD said to Elijah,3 “Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan River.4 Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.”5 So Elijah did as the LORD told him and camped beside Kerith Brook, east of the Jordan.6 The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook.
When the brook dries up, because of lack of rain, God tells Elijah that he has provided a way for him to survive. He sends him to a widow who provides food for Elijah and as a consequence of her responding to his request, and instruction, she and her son also survive the drought.
1 Kings 17:7-9 (NLT)7 But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land.8 Then the LORD said to Elijah,9 “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.”
1 Kings 17:15-16 (NLT)15 So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her son continued to eat for many days.16 There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the LORD had promised through Elijah.
Perhaps the most exciting and dramatic event in Elijah’s life was his face-off with the prophets of the false god Baal on Mount Carmel. During the drought Elijah and Baal’s prophets have a contest to see whose God would accept their sacrifice first.
The prophets of Baal call upon their god all day long to rain fire from heaven to no avail. Then Elijah builds an altar of stones, digs a ditch around it, puts the sacrifice on the top of wood and calls for water to be poured over his sacrifice three times. Elijah calls upon God, and God sends fire down from heaven, burns the sacrifice, the wood, and the stones and licks up the water in the ditch.
1 Kings 18:19-40 (NLT)19 Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.”20 So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel.21 Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only prophet of the LORD who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets.23 Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it.24 Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “You go first, for there are many of you. Choose one of the bulls, and prepare it and call on the name of your god. But do not set fire to the wood.”26 So they prepared one of the bulls and placed it on the altar. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noontime, shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no reply of any kind. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made.27 About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”28 So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out.29 They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.30 Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been torn down.31 He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel,32 and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the LORD. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons.33 He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood. Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.”34 After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said,35 and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench.36 At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command.37 O LORD, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”38 Immediately the fire of the LORD flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench!39 And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The LORD—he is God! Yes, the LORD is God!”40 Then Elijah commanded, “Seize all the prophets of Baal. Don’t let a single one escape!” So the people seized them all, and Elijah took them down to the Kishon Valley and killed them there.
God proved He was more powerful than false gods. It was then that Elijah and the people kill all of the false prophets of Baal.
After the great victory over the false prophets, Elijah prayed and it rained.
1 Kings 18:41-45 (NLT)41 Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go get something to eat and drink, for I hear a mighty rainstorm coming!”42 So Ahab went to eat and drink. But Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bowed low to the ground and prayed with his face between his knees.43 Then he said to his servant, “Go and look out toward the sea.” The servant went and looked, then returned to Elijah and said, “I didn’t see anything.” Seven times Elijah told him to go and look.44 Finally the seventh time, his servant told him, “I saw a little cloud about the size of a man’s hand rising from the sea.” Then Elijah shouted, “Hurry to Ahab and tell him, ‘Climb into your chariot and go back home. If you don’t hurry, the rain will stop you!’”45 And soon the sky was black with clouds. A heavy wind brought a terrific rainstorm, and Ahab left quickly for Jezreel.
Ahab’s wife Jezebel was very upset with Elijah for defeating and then killing the prophets of Baal, who she worshiped. She vowed to kill him. Even after God answered his prayer as he defeated the prophets of Baal and then answered his prayer for rain Elijah doubted God’s ability to protect him so he ran and hid from Jezebel.
1 Kings 19:2-4 (NLT)2 So Jezebel sent this message to Elijah: “May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.”3 Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there.4 Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
Ahab was afraid and wanted an answer from God, and he got one.
1 Kings 19:9-18 (NLT)9 There he came to a cave, where he spent the night. But the LORD said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”10 Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”1 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”14 He replied again, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”15 Then the LORD told him, “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram.16 Then anoint Jehu son of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet.17 Anyone who escapes from Hazael will be killed by Jehu, and those who escape Jehu will be killed by Elisha!18 Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!”
After Elijah found, commissioned, and trained his successor Elisha , who is the next prophet in the series, he is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind.
1 Kings 19:19-21 (NLT)19 So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away.20 Elisha left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, “First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you!” Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.”21 So Elisha returned to his oxen and slaughtered them. He used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the townspeople, and they all ate. Then he went with Elijah as his assistant.
2 Kings 2:11 (NLT)11 As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven.
As was true for Elijah, when we focus on the noise and the tumult of life in this world, we can get our eyes off of the LORD. However, if we listen for His still, small voice and walk in obedience to His Word, we find victory and reward. Elijah struggled with typical human frailties, yet he was used mightily of God.